Game 26: Michigan State at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan has shown admirable fight over the last two months, but the injuries, flaws and youth are finally starting to catch up to it.

The Wolverines ran headfirst into a buzz-saw on Tuesday night when they met a Michigan State roster that wasn’t just more talented, but loaded with players that had never won a game in Ann Arbor.

The Spartans dominated Michigan in its own gym on Tuesday evening. Michigan State led from wire to wire and held a double-digit lead for the final 31 minutes of play.

The Spartans made four threes during a four minute to stretch their lead to 14 points midway through the first half, but it was their domination at the rim that allowed them to keep the Wolverines at bay.

Seniors Travis Trice (22 points and 7 assists) and Branden Dawson (23 points on 10-12 shooting and 13 rebounds) led the Michigan State charge, but as a team Michigan State shot 78% on twos to rack up a season-high 1.4 points per possession of offense.


I pointed out Michigan’s defensive struggles in this week’s power rankings and the Wolverines were hopeless in defending the Spartans. Michigan State scored 1.4 points per possession for the game, shooting 78% on twos and 33% on threes while rebounding 38% of its misses.

In its last two home games, Michigan has allowed 152 points in 109 possessions — that’s 1.39 points per trip, essentially the worst defense that Michigan has played over the last decade plus, and simply inexcusable at home, regardless of the roster.

Michigan State is one of the nation’s best passing teams and that was clear watching this game. Michigan couldn’t keep MSU’s guards out of the lane which meant that the Wolverine bigs were consistently drawn away from their man to help. Seemingly every time a Michigan State guard had two feet in the paint, the result was a basket for the helping big man’s man — whether it was off of a lob pass, drop-off or easy putback.

Of course, it helped that Branden Dawson could jump over anyone that Michigan could put on the floor. Michigan lacks a true rim-defender, but the much bigger problem is its inability to prevent any dribble penetration. That’s been a problem for the Wolverines all season, but the two best perimeter defenders on the roster were watching this game in matching blue warm-ups on the bench.

I thought the transition defense improved over the course of the game, but that could have been because the Spartans didn’t need to run as often, and because Michigan finally started to make some shots. There were some horrific mistakes defensively in the first half that just didn’t seem to make sense.

“There were two plays, all of a sudden the shot clock is going off and they’re laying it in because guys just went and did something,” John Beilein said after the win. “I can’t explain what we do sometimes when we just leave a guy or two guys guard the same guy.”

I had a really hard time with Beilein choosing to go with the 1-3-1 zone in the second half. Michigan State shredded the 1-3-1 in East Lansing and has it drilled to perfection by now. I can’t remember a 1-3-1 zone possession against Michigan State this year that didn’t result in an open corner three, a layup or a foul. I understand trying to do something because the man-to-man defense wasn’t working, but forcing Michigan State to shoot over a 2-3 zone rather than make layups seemed like the better choice.

Michigan’s offense flat-lined in the first half, managing just .78 points per possession, and let Michigan State run away with a big lead. The Wolverines looked like they were completely taken out of their game and could barely muster a shot. Part of that was the fact that Abdur-Rahkman was on the bench with two fouls (he played just 11 minutes in the first half), but he also didn’t record a field goal attempt while he was on the floor. 

We’ve seen the Michigan offense struggle before this season, so that wasn’t really a surprise against the Big Ten’s best defense. What was a surprise was seeing Michigan score 1.51 points per possession in the second half. Abdur-Rahkman took over the game early and Michigan was much more effective and aggressive, especially getting to the free throw line. It was enough to keep up with Michigan State and really should have been enough to get back into the game if the Wolverines could have strung together even a few stops in a row.

Michigan now sits at .500 for the season and in the conference and is looking down the barrel at a game against Ohio State before a trip to Maryland. The losing streak is up to five games and each loss feels more painful than the last.

Michigan State 80, Michigan 67-26

Player Bullets

  • Spike Albrecht: It’s tough to complain with Albrecht’s play as he’s been forced to carry the Wolverine offense. He finished with 12 points and five assists to one turnover in 39 minutes. He’s taking incredible difficult shots, and making more than his fair share, but that’s masking the fact that often times those are the only shots that this offense can get. And we criticize Michigan’s perimeter defense, but there’s only so much that Albrecht can do playing essentially the whole game with an injured hip.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: His first half was thrown off by foul trouble and auto-bench once again against the Spartans, but he was dominant in the second half. The freshman scored 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting and really took the game to Michigan State out of the break, scoring Michigan’s first four baskets. He’s learning on the fly and adjusting on both ends, but it’s clear that he has the talent to continue to make an impact going forward.
  • Zak Irvin: Irvin continues to frustrate with his inconsistency. He saved Michigan early, scoring U-M’s first three baskets thanks to good hustle, movement and finishing, before disappearing until the end of the game. He finished 3 of 7 from long range and didn’t make another two-point shot after those early baskets. He did finish with a team-high 16 points, but Michigan needs more out of him — especially with a depleted lineup.
  • Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins isn’t the only one, but he has really struggled to pick up some defensive concepts. He’s still caught ball-watching or lost in space far too often and it really cost Michigan in the first half. He had a couple of strong takes to the rim in the second half, but was just 1 of 5 from long range for the night.
  • Ricky Doyle: Michigan scripted a great set on its first possession of the game to get Doyle a dunk and he bobbled it out of bounds. It was just one play in a double-digit loss, but it was foreshadowing for what was to come from Doyle. He was just 1 of 2 from the floor and went 2 of 6 at the free throw line.
  • Max Bielfeldt: Bielfeldt probably had the best shift among Michigan’s big men, with 5 points and six rebounds in nine minutes.
  • Mark Donnal: Donnal also recorded nine minutes off the bench, scoring four points at the free throw line and grabbing two offensive boards, but failing to record a defensive rebound.
  • Kameron Chatman: Chatman’s only made field goal was a circus bank shot late in the shot clock and he finished with 2 point and a rebound in seven minutes.
  • jlustig22

    I can’t stand the 1-3-1 defense. I’m not sure what the pts per possession are against it this year but they would seem to be sky high. It’s so easy to beat with wide open corner 3’s or lob passes. I guess if you can force a lot of turnovers, it can be an effective defense but that certainly hasn’t been the case this year. Maybe if Caris was playing, it would be more effective with his length out top but I’ve never been a fan of the 1-3-1 in its concepts.

    • Yep. Understand the frustration. It’s definitely a “chasing” defense to try to make something out of nothing by forcing turnovers, but without LeVert up there it’s tough.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Do we really have any other choice though? I assume the defense also helps limit fouls somewhat and its pretty tough to play man to man defense without Walton and Levert.

    • mikey_mac

      A compadre! 1-3-1 probably worked in lower levels of CBB, but it can’t work consistently against top-tier programs.
      One of my biggest problems with UM’s zones is that the way they play them, they aren’t even saving energy on that end, what with the aggressive wing movement. For what gain, I don’t know — they aren’t forcing turnovers.

      • Mattski

        I don’t think it’s a matter of one defensive approach being superior or
        inferior, but having the personnel and fluidity to move between them. We
        have SEEN the 1-3-1 work against D1 teams when we sprang it for three years. Beilein himself used to get PO’d at the idea that people were associating it with him; he knows its limitations well. In some ways it’s like a full-court press; if you can drop back efficiently when the dogs are called off then it may have utility.

  • Vince

    Great recap Dylan. Your first paragraph is just so painfully true. With more games on film for our shorthanded inexperienced limited team, opponents (especially experienced teams with seniors) really have a much easier job to shut us down and break down whatever defense we throw out there. The mixing of zones can work against some inexperienced or poorly coached teams but MSU (or the upcoming OSU/MD) won’t be fooled again.

    Zak need to stay aggressive for more than 5 mins, and Dawkins need to watch a lot more tape and get rotations and the offense.

    And somebody, anybody, need to hit some of the (semi)open looks so we don’t dig a big hole in starts of games that we simply don’t have enough gas/talent to make up.

    Go Blue!

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      There were enough open early looks like you said. This is one of those games where we needed to make our first 3 or 4 three pointers. Instead, Doyle blows an easy layup on a great set play and then shortly after misses two free throws. It set a bad pace.

      • Mattski

        Funny, we lost three guys to the NBA, have our two best players injured, lost Wilson, and also have Spike playing injured.–that is just objectively a wild lot to overcome. Yet if we had hit some buckets in most of these games we would be doing really well. Clearly, it’s not just about shots per se but (also) passing, getting open, running plays. But even with that said, we have just missed a lot of damned buckets. Doyle really seems to have hit a freshman wall.

  • Wayman Britt

    UM’s goal should be to win two more games before the B10 tourney and get into the NIT. It would be an extremely disappointing season if the team could not even get into the NIT and gain that additional experience.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      I very much agree. That has to be the goal. I also think we need Walton to come back. I was hoping he would be back for this game to light a spark, but from Beilein’s press conference comments, he says he still sore. I am holding out hope he can come back before Sunday. I think his availability at least lights a spark for this team.

      While its looking more unlikely, I also hoped the goal was to get to at least 9-9. I had this one pegged as a win, but unfortunately we started the game far too slow and didn’t have that IT factor you need.

      I really want this team to grab a win versus Ohio State or Maryland just for team morale.

      The team as is is capable of going 2-2.

      We need Walton back to lead this team.

    • mikey_mac

      Agree. This team needs games against similar levels of talent. Let’s get some NIT.

  • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

    Another thing that impresses me about this program is Beilein’s comments after the game. Compliments the other team on doing a good job. I highly doubt he truly thinks some of their players are that great because he knows his team at full strength will beat them, but he keeps that stuff behind closed doors.

    A far cry from Trice’s comments after losing 3 in a row,”I still feel like we are the better team”

    Another big difference between Michigan and Michigan State.

  • Anthony

    I would really like to see Michigan go after more athletic big guys. Jordan Morgan was a great defender in terms of positioning and being able to take charges but he wasn’t a shot blocker, or a great rebounder. Doyle and Donnal will never be jmo on defense and they do not have the size and athleticism to make up for being out of position. I would love to see a guy who is a theat for a lob on pick, and can also block shots while picking up a few rebounds.

    • Anthony

      I am also not sure how many big guys belien has recruited that are athletic, but not as skilled. Amir Williams is the lay guy I can think of

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      With Bielfedlt unlikely to be renewed for a 5th year, that is something Beilein has to find.

      I wonder how active we are in the transfer/grad student market. It would be great to get someone with some experience already.

    • MAZS

      We’ve done just fine in the past with JMo and without an elite shot-blocker. I don’t understand the size fetishism. Our limitations this year are more about what we can’t do that we have been doing very well the past few years: shooting the ball, effective pick-and-rolls, and ball movement. Beilein has done yeoman’s work being competitive when he essentially can’t run his own system.

      And FWIW, the premier lob/dunk stars in the Big Ten are never centers and rarely big men–thinking Thompson, Williams and Dawson this year–and our own GRIII of late.

      • Anthony

        I know they did great with jmo, but he was great at defending the pick and roll and was great at taking charges Donnal and Doyle do not have great footwork to defend like jmo. My point was guys like Williams, Mosquera perrea, hammons, and egwua would be guys I would love to see in our system especially with the quality wings belien gets. Those guys are someone you could throw it over the top giving Michigan another threat on the pick ands roll and could help more on defense.

        • MAZS

          Williams isn’t really a post player (more a finisher) and the other 3 haven’t demonstrated much post offensive skill–though for Hammons, it is more likely passiveness. It looks like Doyle may have hit a wall, but I am cautiously optimistic about where he’ll be next season. I was a Doyle skeptic coming in, but he has a good feel for the game. He simply needs to get stronger and in better shape.

          • Anthony

            I didn’t mean this as a bashing a belien I just would like to see more athletic guys in our system because I have faith in the staff to develop a raw athlete. I believe at some point Doyle and Donnal will be productive, but I’m not confident it will be until their junior or senior years. I meant this as a compliment to jmo and how perfect he played defense with his lack of athleticism as well those other guys have a long way to go in terms of footwork and positioning.

  • MAZS

    I notice that the Player Bullets excludes Dakich. I’d be curious what his plus-minus was. He was so over-his-head yesterday. As soon as he came in, MSU went at him. The game went from bad to essentially lost after his shift. He simply cannot contribute at this level. I’d really prefer going with Spike and four other guys–we don’t need a second “ball-handler” if he cannot create anything. And Longeron looks far more athletic.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Dakich passed up a WIDE open three in the corner at one point. The possession had progressed to him and he didn’t shoot. If he is not going to take that shot, then I don’t understand his presence on the floor. Its 4 on 5 at that point.

      Dakich also gave up a 3 to a player that had previously hit one the entire season.

      Its hard to watch these games when we handicap ourselves with him on the floor. But some blame has to go to MAAR as well. He has to be a lot smarter and not get 2 fouls like that.

      You are correct that the game was lost during that sequence. Beilein even inserted MAAR back in because it was apparent that things could get completely out of control if Dakich stayed in.

      Also I don’t see Longernan as any better of an option. Both of them are completely outmatched, physically and athletically at this level.

      • MAZS

        I agree with the 4 on 5 perception. His baseline drive was very very IM. I don’t plan on being any harsher because I am sure Andrew is giving his all–but it is the elephant in the room.

        That said, I do not blame Dakich for Nairns 3. Michigan backed way off on Nairn no matter who was defending him–as they should–because he hadn’t made one and wouldn’t take one. The fact that Nairns hit one as the clock wound down is really almost random and not on Dakich.

  • Indiana_Matt

    It won’t break my heart if this season just gets put out of its misery (i.e., no NIT or CBI). Turn the page. Get our people healthy, increase the strength and skill development of the freshmen via a Rocky IV-style Siberian training regimen and let’s get back to being competitive in 2015-2016. That isn’t to say I don’t hope we have a spark here at the end. But just trying to think realistically now.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      I would like these guys to steal one of these so called harder games (Ohio State or Maryland). Its wishful thinking, but I think it could do wonders for the team morale.

    • Not sure the math is really in Michigan’s favor to reach the NIT.

      They are 13-13 now and still have: OSU, @MD, @NW, Rutgers plus the Big Ten Tourney. Could be tricky to get above .500.

      • Indiana_Matt

        I don’t think so either. But some other folks were commenting about it still being a goal.

        • I think it should be… extra games and more experience would be a benefit for this team.

          • Mattski

            Of course. You set goals. You don’t always reach them. This one involves winning more games! Not to mention the pleasures of travel, bonding, etcetera.

  • bobohle

    I think the coaching staff will learn recruiting lessons now. Any big recruit needs to be developed physically coming in if there are no current bigs developed to compete. As said many times before, we won”t be competing for conference titles or national titles without 4 star or 5 star athletes at most positions. We can’t just depend on 3 star rapid development. I hope we don”t lose out on Jaylen Brown. Once the first 5 star commits,I think more will eventually follow.

  • Corperryale

    Didn’t like the auto bench of MAAR. Putting in Dakich for such a long stretch killed any momentum they might have had. What’s the point of saving a guy for late in the game if you have no backups and are down 15? To “have a learning moment” at all costs? Trice and Forbes were raining threes in Dakich’s face the whole half. Those MSU O-rebs off free throws were ugly, too. Ugh. That isn’t supposed to happen, like ever.

    At this point, priority #1 should be taking the Big Ten Tournament by storm and grasping the auto bid from the cold dead hands of Bo Ryan. (BTW, I personally think any team that manages such a herculean feat should be spared the insult of an NCAA first-round play-in game, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.) Whatever it takes to shock the world — switching to a full-court press, burning Wilson’s redshirt, perhaps putting Duncan Robinson in some sort of disguise.

    Anyway, even if that doesn’t work, every great program is allowed to have ONE down year. This is Michigan’s. I hope they figure it out for next year. What are the Maker brothers up to?

  • Indiana_Matt

    Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina. Those are the teams in the top 15 that have multiple 5 star recruits. Then there is Villanova who has a lot of 4 star recruits and they get an occasional 5 star. Virginia, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Utah, Notre Dame, Northern Iowa, Wichita State and Iowa State are the top 15 teams that do it with a mix of 4 star and 3 star guys. That is who we are too. We are not going to have the identity of that first group that builds itself around a continual parade of McDonalds All-Americans. We are going to be OK. Circumstances have aligned and it has been an off season. This program is still in good hands. I think we’ll be back in the top 15 before too long.

    • bobohle

      Those in the second group keep their 3 and 4 stars for four years and just retool. We need to start with bigger fish if we are almost depleted than go from there. I don’t think we want to wait every 2 years to compete. We’ve lost to much talent early the last 2 years.

      • Indiana_Matt

        In a perfect world, I agree. Starting with bigger fish can prove difficult though.

      • Mattski

        Just don’t think that anything that has happened with our players to the NBA has been predictable, or that you can project the same thing happening to such an extent again. If you can’t plan for such occurrences, then how should you alter your recruiting methods? Mostly, I am sure, the plan is always to get the best players they can. Character guys, yes; shooters, yes; intelligent guys who fit the scheme, yes; but it’s not like they haven’t been building these teams around the talent when it revealed itself, either–they are looking for really talented guys who want to come here (Brown?). It’s true that we really, really need a couple more 4 or 5-star players. But does anyone think Beilein & Co. aren’t going after them? I just don’t see a lot to criticize here, try though people may.

        I’ll also say this–it’s true that Kansas, KY, Duke, and a few other teams attract the top-tier talent. But it wasn’t always that way. There’s no categorical reason that we can’t push our way in. Beilein has over-achieved so massively that we are now pretty spoiled, but there’s still hard work to do. And even the coaches of all those top-tier teams have had their ups and downs. Well, maybe not coach K. But I’m not sure he’s human.

    • Corperryale

      I agree in principle with everything you are saying. But in 1985-1995 Michigan landed multiple 5-star-type recruits on the reg. Then there were sanctions (as at other schools), but even Amaker recruited a number of really talented and athletic players. Based on history and brand alone, Michigan ought to be — if not in the first tier — then squarely ahead of programs like Wisconsin and Virginia, to say nothing of Northern Iowa or Wichita. I know the recruits these days are too young to remember the good old days but it has been nearly as long since schools like UCLA and Indiana were truly consistently good, and they don’t have nearly as much trouble recruiting on the basis of their illustrious “reputations” as Michigan does. (That they fail to capitalize on their good recruiting is due to poor coaching). I suspect that the problem for Michigan is not that it isn’t perceived as an “elite” program by today’s recruits — who could look at the amazing Player Development Center or the sheer number of nationally televised games and conclude otherwise? — but that the current regime is extremely selective (and extremely idiosyncratic) in terms of the types of players/students/people they recruit and they don’t cast a wide enough net when it comes to recruiting top-tier talent. The coaching and player development at U-M has been excellent — the fact the recruiting has not leveraged this success is simply disappointing and I don’t know why it is considered so gauche to say so publicly.

      • Indiana_Matt

        My fandom dates back to the 1992 NCAA tournament when I was in 6th grade. I have followed almost every game since that time (on radio from Muncie, IN in those first couple years). And I have delved into the history of the 80s squads and the amount of talent on the 1989 team. So I totally get where you are coming from. Even after our years of McDonalds All-Americans (even Bobby Crawford was a McDonalds All-American) the Sims, Petway, Harris, Abrams era was indeed talent rich on paper.

        But that talent didn’t really develop at UM much at all. By contrast our current staff is perhaps the best at player development in the country. To an extent recruiting has been disappointing. And I probably go too far the other way in extolling the virtues of the current system when in reality there have been disappointments. That is a valid point to make.

        I just think, realistically, there are two ways to win today. Stock piling insane talent or building system oriented teams on good but perhaps not 5-star talent. I don’t think John has ever ran the former type of program and I don’t think he will wrap up his career doing something drastically different.

        That said, I am hoping for a couple 5-star or high 4-star guys in 2016. Side note: to me there seems to have been a decline in Detroit high school talent (and to some degree Michigan high school talent) since the late 90s. Do you think this is a parallel reason for a lack of high major guys? Our natural talent resource drying up a bit? Or do you think geography means less today than it has in the past (in addition to James Young I think of all the Indiana and Illinois kids that have left their states and the B1G in general).

        • Corperryale

          Appreciate your comments and agree that JB has had considerable success building “system oriented teams” and will likely continue to do so.

          Fun hypothetical: I wonder what JB could have done with Amaker’s 2003-2004 team. I mean, those weren’t really JB-type players, but I imagine he could have developed that group into a FF-level squad rather than a middle of the pack B1G team.

          My only comment is that U-M seems to go all-in for a few special top-tier recruits who fit a number of on-court and off-court criteria (including some semi-secret juju regarding birth month and parentage) rather than casting a wider net… but since these guys are also recruited by the Caliparis and the K’s (and the Creans, which makes me cringe), it often leads to not getting the “Plan A” guys and having to resort, late in the cycle and with varying success, to Plan B. We often hear justifications about how we only want the “high character” guys, although this is somewhat insulting to the quality recruits that go elsewhere and also seem like high character guys. To your point about geography, as a non-Michigander, I don’t follow Detroit/Michigan HS basketball enough to assess the quality of talent it produces relative to the past. I gather Country Day and Pershing etc aren’t what they used to be. That said, the state still produces a decent amount of talent — a few guys in the top 100 most years — but it doesn’t appear to be our main focus in terms of recruiting any more, for better or for worse.

          In summary: I just want them to take a chance on a dominant, take-no-prisoners big man and would be content to let the rest of the pieces can fall where they may.

          • Indiana_Matt

            I appreciate your comments as well. And as someone who’s favorite players were Webber, Howard, Mo Taylor, Maceo and Tractor… I totally agree with your summary statement.

          • Indiana_Matt

            And I was thinking about your hypothetical also. I think he could have made them special (no offense to Amaker who came in and ran things with class and style at a moment when we needed it).

          • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

            Beilein would have made the tournament with our 2003-2004 team, 2005-2006 team, and 2006-2007 team. All those teams were essentially one or two big wins short.

            In my opinion:

            Beilein wins that 2006 Big Ten Tournament game over Minnesota.

            Beilein would have made a deep run with the 2006 team. That team was extremely talented.

            Also Beilein wins that 2007 Final season game against #1 Ohio State.

            Both those wins make us a tournament team that season.

            Our 2002-2003 team finished in 3rd place and would have been a tournament team, but we had the self-imposed ban that year. Daniel Horton won freshman of the year over Dee Brown or Deron Williams.

  • A2MIKE

    I think too many people are missing the forest for the trees… Beilein took Rahk and Dawkins, because he knew they would be solid backups on a final four contender down the road, not now, but when they are juniors and seniors. We will be praising that move in a couple years when we have better roster balance and can follow up a Final 4, with another Final 4 and really get on a roll.

    Out of everything that has happened this year, the defense is most concerning, closely followed by the passing and court vision. This team needs to get better at defense next year, and not just a little, a lot, like 4 points per 100 possessions, and that is a big gap to close. I don’t have the answer, but I would like the 1-3-1 canned, and think the 2-3 has some potential, but more than anything Doyle needs to get better on D asap, and Wilson needs to be a viable option, Donnal just is not a high D-1 starter.

    I would love to see us land Brown for next year, as I think Brown + LeVert = B1G Championship contender. If you get one or the other, we are probably an upper level conference team and safely in the tournament, miss on both and it will be a bubble year.

    I agree with everyone’s points on the recruiting and needing better players, but we are never going to have a roster full of 4 and 5 stars. We will land some, just not 5 and 6 like the teams mentioned above, but I still think we can compete going forward, but really need guys like RAHK, Dawkins and Doyle to be upper classmen, and some of them coming off then bench due to younger more talented players in front of them. That has to be our recipe for success.

    Either way, embrace the process, don’t give up on the team.

    Go Blue!

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Go to Jaylen Brown and say we need you to be the guy for us.

  • zeroskie

    So strange about Chatman’s performance this season. Looking at his HS tapes and him in Italy you’d swear he was a totally different player. I thought we were going to have to worry about MAAR and Dawkins, but I was totally wrong.

    Not sure what’s going on but maybe it’s a lack of confidence or the speed of the college game is too much for him? What do you guys think?

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      One factor is age. Both MAAR (5 days younger than Caris Levert) and Dawkins are a lot older than him.